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BATTLETECH (which I'll just call BattleTech from here on out) is a new turn-based tactical strategy game from Harebrained Schemes, the developer behind the Shadowrun RPG trilogy (Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and Shadowrun: Hong Kong, released between 2013 and 2015). BattleTech isn't anything like those earlier games. It is pure tactical strategy with little in the way of RPG elements. Also, for what it's worth, I don't know anything about the BattleTech universe. In this review, I'll focus on the game and how much I enjoyed it -- or not -- and I'll completely ignore how well it adheres to official rulesets or fits in with the franchise's canon history.
Since BattleTech features a whole lot of mech-on-mech combat, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's a science fiction title. According to the game's lore, in the somewhat distant future humans manage to colonize the stars (thanks largely to "dropships," which can travel great distances in the blink of an eye), and different houses end up controlling different planetary systems, much like kingdoms in medieval times. As the game opens up, one monarch is betrayed and deposed of her throne, and you spend the entirety of the game helping her to recruit allies and take back what's hers. Amusingly, this is exactly the same storyline as from Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, the last game I reviewed, just with a change in setting and of course no witchers.
At the start of the game, you create your character. You first decide on your background, which gives you a small bonus to your skills, and then you select a name and an appearance, which are purely cosmetic. You also get to select a pronoun for your character ("he," "she," or "they"), but this is cosmetic as well. There aren't really any companions in the game, and there certainly aren't any romances. You're just playing an anonymous mechwarrior (aka mech pilot).
Each character is defined by four skills: Gunnery (which helps with ranged attacks), Piloting (which helps with melee attacks), Tactics (which helps with weapon range and accuracy), and Guts (which helps with health and heat). Each skill has two abilities associated with it, and characters can only learn three abilities total: two with one skill and one with another. That means there's a grand total of 12 builds for the game, which is pretty skimpy. Worse, only a couple of the builds make sense. I ended up using the same build for all of my core mechwarriors ("lancer").
Along with your character, there are also other mechwarriors available. You start out with four of these pilots, and you can hire more as you go along. Pilots can get injured or killed during missions, so it's a good idea to keep backups around, but pilots cost you money in wages, so you have to strike a balance. Only the mechwarriors who go on missions earn experience (which is the currency you use to improve their skills), so you have to bring newbies along sometimes. The game doesn't give you cupcake missions, so you can't send your B team on training runs. You have to use newbies in difficult missions.... which can be difficult.
Interestingly, mechs are all but characters in themselves, and they give you far more build options. Mechs range in size from "light" (the smallest) to "assault" (the heaviest), and there are dozens of models available, each with a fixed set of weapon mounts and jumpjet mounts, and a maximum weight. You're free to build mechs however you want, which is good because you have to balance firepower, movement, armor, ammunition, and heat dissipation, which is a lot of categories to juggle. I had a lot more fun building mechs than characters.
Gameplay in BattleTech focuses on two areas: your spaceship, which is your base of operations, and the small maps where you complete missions. I'll start with the spaceship, since it's the simpler of the two.
At the start of the game, you have a small spaceship with limited capabilities, but as you progress through the campaign, you receive a more impressive model, which you can upgrade. Your spaceship has various compartments, like the bridge, where you select missions, the barracks, where you view and upgrade your mechwarriors, the mech bay, where you repair and refit mechs, and engineering, where you create upgrades. The upgrades primarily improve the medical and technical ratings of your ship, which speed up how quickly you heal mechwarriors and repair mechs, but they can also improve the morale of your company, which pays dividends during missions.
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